Hello everyone. This journal is a bit long and in our age of short-speak some will probably not finish it as a result. Most of you don't know me and have no reason to read, but this is my attempt to reach across the internet and look you in the eye, asking humbly; hear me out. I hope you'll breath a deep breath and take the time to consider another persons perspective.
Some ideas take more space than nano-blogging allows....
I wish I didn't know. So much, I wish I didn't know.
I wish the world were as I once imagined it to be - stable, functioning and run by great men and women of wisdom.
I wish I had nothing to do with the problems and therefore no stake in the solutions.
I wish even that change wasn't possible. Were we doomed to perpetual conflict and chaos, there would be little incentive to try.
But, as I'm sure you've already guessed my point, this is not the case. The world is not stable and those who run it are flawed. We are all part of a wide variety of problems and solutions, and change happens every day all around us, often driven by whoever is winning at any given moment.
Despite popular opinion, at this point in history, the solutions do seem to be winning. Things are getting better. The short term may look dismal with a recession, two wars and mounting debt, but in the longer view, being a human being has gotten progressively better.
Though it may not look it with a sensationalized 24-7 news cycle, global poverty is on decline and Steven Pinker argues "that today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence." None of this is moving as fast as it could or should, but in many parts of the planet there is in fact great progress.
Despite the growth, there are still places where this kind of stability and security has not reached. Large pockets of the world, like North Korea, Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Uganda and Congo, where women are subjugated, speech is still stifled, men are not free and children enslaved. Who is to blame must take a back seat to the far more pressing question - what is to be done about it?
At this point, in 2009, an Africa in trouble is old and tired news. There was a time of optimism and attention in the late 60's, when progress seemed inevitable. But the global recession of the 70's created large imbalances of wealth and many developing countries were driven deep into debilitating debt. For decades the same headlines have dominated our view of the world's second largest continent. After a while, we just.get.over.it. Block it out. Words like crisis, war, famine, genocide become comparable to discount, best, sale, guaranteed, and lose all meaning, glazing over us as we stare intently at the next set of flashy lights.
Eventually some people got mad enough to get clever and they learned the art of the flashy lights and began to "brand" these problems. Penetrate the Popular Psyche was their mantra as newer and more sophisticated methods of reaching people were developed. Issues went and got Advertised.
And it worked. We were stirred. Whether by global warming, a black man for change, or children with a gun, we responded to these new kinds of lights with vigor and saw the world anew.
But like every form of flashy lights, they either already have, or will at some point, lose their luster. We'll see the lights through a dull lens and go through the same deadening all over again. Like robotic repeat we'll check out and stop paying attention. And then what?
Staring such cycles in the eye, I have to ask - what is happening to us? We live with more comfort than any other people in history and are very nearly the least happy. Depression rates are at record highs. Even our attempts to live with purpose soon become fadded and faded. I often wonder if all we lack is that which our culture offers so little of; perspective.
Recently a famous musician posted a video promoting a social cause and a teenage girl posted this below:
"i think the number of causes I've signed onto is beginning to show... *bags under eyes from sleep deprivation*.. wow.. sorry, could i sound more selfish? Ahh I don't know.. I just feel like sometimes its never ending, though I know that doesn't justify indifference.. really. I do care, and I watch the news.. but is that ever enough? Not to me. I'll probably be the person who works until the day she dies trying to change things, I hope so anyways. It's just a real problem among teenagers today I think.. and this whole humantarian thing is sickingly becoming a fad. I know it sounds wrong but I want it to die. If you don't want to help out of the goodness of your heart, just dont do it. And please god don't do it for the sake of other people or image. (sorry I wasn't refering to you if thats what it sounded like) . I just think it means more than "trendyness", and in a way this trend is just degrading our generation even farther to see it not for what/who it impacts, but for how "good" of a person you'll appear to everyone else if you do it. Uhg."
With a new cause every week, the facebook invites have become like modern day telemarketers, berating us to give a damn. With so many flashing lights and so little teaching, we are often left wondering - give a damn about what? A brand? A logo? Some poor kid who looks sad?
Evites and email aside, here is a genuine invitation coupled with what little information I can offer. This Saturday Invisible Children is throwing a global rally for the rescue of Joseph Kony's child-soldiers. And you should go.
The first time I heard about child-soldiering my shock pushed the idea away like so many other issues of human horror. I saw a book in Starbucks called A Long Way Gone and my first thought was about the shade of green and the positioning of the photo. Don't dig the brand; don't want to read the book. Simple as that.
I remember walking up to my bedroom one night around 7:30 and for some, strange reason checking my old hotmail address for the first time in months. Among the few emails I read was an invitation to come see a new documentary. Starting time - 8pm. I sat back, took an obligatory breath, rolled my eyes, grabbed my coat, and went to see Invisible Children: Rough Cut. Watching the film, I dug deep inside knowing this should be harder to watch and cause more hurt inside. But instead I just sat there. Despite Jacob's relentless tears, I couldn't cry. What is wrong with my mind I began to ask? If not this, then what could drive me to feel? To act.
A year later I met a former child soldier in Austin and heard his story. The reality of what so many people had been talking about began to set in but still, I could not bring myself to feel the kind of pain he was describing. It was too distant, too deep.
Another year later and I met a teenager named Bahati living in DR Congo. He wore a purple Texas Rangers shirt and the man taking care of him told us he had a staggering intelligence. Bahati said he wanted to use his mind to bring peace to his country and all of me wanted to believe him. But when he looked away there was still a horror in his eyes. Because at age 12, he had been forced to kill.
This is not a problem for those people in that land, somewhere far far away. As we've seen from the veterans of WWII, Vietnam and Iraq, war has far reaching affects in any land, but when children are brought into the fight, it is not just the current generation that is affected. It is often three or four or five generations left traumatized. This isn't too difficult to imagine; if all living generations are dysfunctional who will raise the next to become educated, stable and active in the world around them?
If left unresolved, these conflicts of children will be inherited by our grandchildren. And in an age where a trillion dollars is passed around the globe every day, and planes cross over all our borders, each of us has a deep stake in global security.
There will be those that say we should spend more time working toward solving the problems in our own home. And they are right. Working to help people in another country does not excuse us from working to help our own.
Education, healthcare, energy, entitlements, crime, homelessness, the list is unending and often overwhelming. Each of us must do our part to address these issues with vigor. Like my farsighted eyes, to look only across the pond and not across your street is a form of blindness.
But the troubles we now face as a country require a larger view of who we consider "our own." Our most pressing problems are in many ways global and cannot be solved without the rest of the world.
The great danger is when we open our doors, look outside, and see Them instead of Us. As though we are not in this together.
So many times this has been done - modern history our most dashing example. To those who plotted he Holocaust, Jews simply were not human. During Apartheid, blacks and coloreds were spat on and killed like excess garbage, and in the Rwandan genocide, the Hutus called the Tutsi "cockroaches" and stomped them out like little more.
Much good has come from the past hundred years of growth and development, but much evil has come as well. My great-grandmother was put on a ship at age 13 from Greece because her family was abducted from their island to be killed by the Nazi's. There is now a large stone engraved with my family's name among the long list of those taken and massacred. Over six million Jews died in that war and in its aftermath we spoke a single plea of rare unity that resonated across the globe and changed the shape of our world forever - never again.
Most of our problems do.not.care. about our borders and differences - they belong to us all. If climate change is happening and the threats are even the smallest bit true, it will not only be the problem of our greatest polluters, it will be all of ours. If men and women are allowed to break natural laws and commit mass oppression, then our children grow up in a world where our word no longer holds value. When we say "all men are created equal" and "never again", they won't believe us. Why put stake in liberty when "justice for all" has never been the policy of those who wear it most proudly?
The cold reality, despite our wide divisions, is that we are all stuck here. Together. Put more simply, we are all we have. When injustice is permitted to run rampant and subjugate a people, the world is less secure. We are all less secure.
There is currently a region of our world caught in comparable conflict to WWII and innocents are dying at an extraordinary rate in wars that began born before they were born. And we should do more to stop it.
Though I must admit - writing those words I barely understand what they mean. Innocents dying? Little in my life has made that real to me, so I have to assume that most of you read it in a glance and gave it the same small thought. We can all acknowledge, no matter how much we think we know, that there is a disconnect between their lives there and our lives here. A large one.
A couple days ago, I came home from an incredible day on the beach - perfect weather, great friends, a big cold cooler, hours of sand volleyball, playing cards, sunscreen, chips, dip and pretzels, followed by a double decker fried meal of goodness. I crashed to a dvd, still hypnotized by sun and fun. It was a hell of a day. At one point early on, a girl asked what I did for a living and I'm like man, I don't want to spoil the moment, does she really want to talk about Africa? I mean, probably not, so I tell her that we work with young people and one thing leads to another and here we are, talking about Congo. But she already has her cause and her friend has her cause and then there's this other cause, ooh but have you heard of this one and do you know of this cool one and there's this new one and...damn. Human suffering has become an industry. A thriving and popular industry.
Each has a tag line and a way they get you. Some pull you in and others annoy and keep you out. Each has advocates, those that fight for them, and it's almost as though it becomes, oh I don't know, your taste. Like I like post-Warhol modern art and also kids from India, but I'm more emo-goth and want to end human trafficking. Me myself, I'm personally concerned about the global food crisis and by the way don't you love the new...fill in the blank.
With so many options, the cause becomes more about who we are than what we're fighting for and all issues stand equal. After all, who am I to say your accessory is less valuable than mine?
But not all emergencies are equal and what is occurring in east Africa demands urgent response. John Prendergast of the Enough Project describes it this way:
"The two hornet's nests are two central African militias that most Americans have never heard of: the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known as the FDLR.
For over 15 years, these militias have committed some of the world's worst human rights abuses with near total impunity for their actions. The LRA is a Ugandan militia specializing in the abduction of children to be used as soldiers and sex slaves. The FDLR, whose leadership contains some of those responsible for Rwanda's genocide in 1994, uses mass rape as its war tactic of choice."
So, like I said, this Saturday Invisible Children is throwing a global rally for the rescue of the LRA's child-soldiers. And you should go.
But please, don't stand up out of your chair and lay down a day in protest because you like or don't like the marketing campaign behind it, or because you like or dislike this logo or that brand. The fad of fashion activism will pass like all fashion passes and then you'll be left staring at your passion the same way you stare at your old denim, asking - did I really wear that?
Stand up and protest because it is, very simply put, right.
The Rescue will hardly solve everything, just like our few bucks here and there will hardly be enough in and of itself. But it is a big step forward. The Obama administration must know that we will not sit idly by with our usual distracted tactics lacking the necessary follow through. We will demand much more, from them and the world, than any government has given to date. And we will not stop demanding after this Saturday.
You and me, we the free, have unprecedented influence over a great many people in the world. The U.S. government is the largest to have ever existed and our reach is far. As citizens, our singular vote makes us more powerful than most human beings in history. Born into such privilege, each of us must ask; for what will we use that power?
In September 1989 a small group of people held a protest rally in Leipzig, East Germany. The very next day the neighboring town held their own protest. The small action rippled through the country with explosive momentum until only a month later 1,000,000 people gathered for one of the great protests of all time. Together they tore down, some with their bare hands, the Berlin Wall.
On November 21 2004, Ukraine held a presidential election amidst an extremely corrupt and charged political culture. The results came back and despite exit poles putting the peoples candidate 11% ahead, the candidate of the ruling party had won by 3%. Knowing they had been cheated from justice, individuals across the country stood up and began to walk to the capital city. Without a history of peaceful protest, most of the people had never participated in a political event - and yet, on November 23 they marched with over 500,000 people.
They were named the Orange Jackets for the orange raincoats they were given by aid agencies and for an entire month these people slept outside in the rain and snow. Purposefully and peacefully, so-called ordinary citizens simply...waited. And then, on December 26, there was a re-vote. And fifteen days later the people won their victory. Justice was served and freedom was grown.
The world as it now stands is very nearly half free and half unfree. We have seen an explosion of freedom around the world, one unimaginable to the "experts" a hundred years ago. But the story of these whistleblowers is not the history we are taught in elementary school - because this is the history of revolution.
Both of these protests were considered spontaneous by many outside observers, but a closer look reveals a different root cause. Young activism. Massive grassroots canvassing and even radicalizing had shown a population that they were in fact the roots of true power. Not the suits or the bank accounts - the us's.
Should I go on? The Hungarian Revolution? Led by youth. The Color Revolutions? Led by youth. Even now, in China, Iran, Venezuela, Congo, Cuba, young people are rising against oppression. Born into a civilization unwilling to grant them their birthright, they rise.
The lineage of liberty is the continued dispersion of power from the hands of the few to the hands of the many. Men and women have given everything to gain such power for you and me - what will we give to share it?
This is hardly philanthropy. Don't give in to pity, it only robs the receiver of dignity. A man sitting on the streets of Haiti echoed an Australian Aboriginal when he said, "If you came here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you came because you believe your liberation bound to mine, then come and we can walk together."
In an era of comfort and smooth selling, the voice of activism is often too abrasive to be heard by softened ears. But please, don't not listen because you're over the "cause thing" or the "Africa thing" or the "activism thing." I think, to one degree or another, we are all over it. I certainly am, in much the same way I'm over skinny jeans and oversized sunglasses.
But do not make the mistake of confusing the lives of millions of people with what we see on magazine covers. This is not fashion. This is war.
JOSEPH KONY IS THE FIRST MAN INDICTED FOR WAR CRIMES BY THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT. HE HAS ABDUCTED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF BOYS FOR WAR, GIRLS FOR SEX AND HAS KILLED INNOCENTS IN UGANDA, SUDAN, THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC AND THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO.
And we stand.and.watch.
IT SHOULD OFFEND US.
It should make us mad.
This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed non-comformists...The saving of our world will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority....like Thomas Jefferson, who in an age adjusted to slavery wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"; Through such maladjustment an already decadent generation may be called to those things which make for peace.
Those are the words of the revered Martin Luther King Jr. who also said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality and whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.
Those poetic words stir something deep inside of me, but there is something far more penetrating than his prose. It's more than his compassion or insight or ability inspire - what's penetrating is that he was right. As were the Germans. As were the Ukrainians. As have been every man and woman who has believed us all free. When they rose, our world was never the same.
Ensuring that these children are rescued is also, very much, right.
We should fight to make Melville right when he said that the past is the textbook of tyrants and the future, the bible of the free.
Come out this Saturday in peaceful protest. If you've never been to something like this before, don't worry, you won't be alone. But if you do in fact give a damn, then you.must.show.up. Our strength is not in wealth or stature, influence or connections, but rather in numbers. Your compassion means little when not coupled with action.
It isn't enough to talk about peace, one must believe it. And it isn't enough to to believe in it, one must work for it. These are words by Eleanor Roosevelt, who as a teenager dragged her cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, across the train tracks so he could see something neither of them had seen before - poverty. They were never the same.
Eventually my great-grandmother's ship landed on Ellis Island and she grew up a New York immigrant. Her children were then able to rise out of poverty because they lived in a country created by FDR's policies. The policies of this nation and other powerful nations do affect lives and the men and women who write those laws answer to us. Powerlessness and despair are easy with something so far away as a holocaust in Africa.
Despite this, I implore you; look through the flashy lights and see a history true but rarely told; that change is reserved for those who dare to dream of a better tomorrow and give all that's necessary to see it through.
Dare to dream.
This Saturday Invisible Children is throwing a global rally for the rescue of Joseph Kony's child-
soldiers. And you should go.
Sean D. Carasso